Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Klein Karoo Kameleon

Little Karoo Dwarf Chameleon (Bradypodion gutturale)

Dwarf chameleons are small – up to 10cm excluding the tail, which can be as long as or longer than the body. The Little Karoo Dwarf Chameleon has a dorsal crest that extends the entire length of the body and down the tail, giving it the appearance of a mini-dinosaur. Naturally their colour varies according to their local conditions and temperament. Angry chameleons can turn almost black.

The range of the Little Karoo Dwarf Chameleon according to Bill Branch's Guide to Reptiles of Southern Africa, is fairly well delimited by the extent of the Little Karoo i.e. from Uniondale to Ladismith from east to west, and between the Great Karoo to the north and coastal plain to the south. This makes it a South African endemic. There are 14 other chameleons in the genus.

They catch their prey by waiting in ambush for passing insects and by flicking out the long tongue – which is the length of the body. Dwarf chameleons can be hard to find in winter, leading to the theory that they may hibernate underground. This is the first Dwarf Chameleon I have found on Blue Hill Escape.

I don't need to look where I'm going!

Which Dove is that?

Which Dove is that?

This is a brief post based on the photo to show the difference between a Cape Turtle Dove (on the left) and Red-eyed Dove when they are side by side. The Cape Turtle Dove Streptopelia capicola is easy to identify when it calls (work haard-er), but also has a beady black eye, is slightly smaller, and has a bit more white on the undertail. The red eye on the Red-eyed Dove Streptopelia semitorquata is a good identifying feature in good light, while the general gizz is a bit bulkier and darker. Both are very common on Blue Hill Escape.

Cape Turtle Dove with a Red Eyed Dove

Cape Turtle Dove
Speckled Pigeon - unmistakeable

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

How do you catch a Leopard?

We currently have a walk through cage on the property, courtesy of the Landmark Foundation (LM). A walk through cage is a bit like a walk-in cage (see How to catch a baboon, posted previously), except there are fall-down doors on both sides of the cage – it looks a bit like a tunnel. They don’t always work though… if an animal is light or steps over the trigger plate.

So, a couple of months ago our camera traps revealed the presence of a big male leopard. This leopard had been collared by LM previously. The collar contains a GPS tracking device. Now the leopard needs to be recaptured so the collar can be removed and the information on the leopard’s movements downloaded and analyzed. You can tell a lot about leopards from their movements. Most obviously, by mapping out an individual’s locations you can map its territory and preferred habitats. You can also tell how often they are making kills since they don’t move much from a spot after making a kill. You can also guess at the size of the kill by seeing how long the leopard spends in one spot – the longer he spends somewhere, the bigger the kill is a general rule of thumb (but that is influenced also on how long it was since his last kill and what the last kill was). In the case of a female, periods of over a week centred on a central point indicates that she has had a litter of cubs (usually one or two).

A male territory typically encompasses several female territories. Preliminary data suggests that the territories of male leopards of the Baviaanskloof (estimates are that there are about 25 in the 200,000ha area) can be as large as 60,000ha. These are the largest leopard territories ever recorded. The reason is that Fynbos is nutrient poor, so livestock carrying capacity (the total number of the mammals) is low. So a leopard has to go a long way looking for a meal. The role of persecution has also to be quantified – as leopards demarcate their territories based on territory boundaries of neighbouring cats. If there are no neighbouring cats of the same sex this means that there is no natural limit to their territory size.

Hopefully when (or if!) we catch this leopard we will be able to tell you a lot more about the leopards of Baviaanskloof.
Dassie - or Rock Hyrax - known prey of at least one leopard from Blue Hill
Leopard Tortoise - it doesn't eat leopards, and isn't eaten by leopards either. Amazing that it was moving fast enough to get caught on the camera trap though.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Narina Trogon - what a reward for a hard days work

This past Saturday we headed to Doodsklip in the Baviaanskloof for our first event with the Friends of the Baviaanskloof (FOBWA) - an alien vegetation ‘hack‘. FOBWA are an interesting group of conservation minded people who get together a couple of times a year to clear wattle and other invasive plants from the reserve. No photos of that - I was was too busy trying to work out how to use a tree popper.

After a hard days work and many uprooted trees we set up camp at Bergplaas (Afrikaans for Mountain Farm), an amazing campsite in the fynbos of the Baviaansberge, or Baviaans mountains.

The campsite had a resident herd of Red Hartebeest, which were fairly relaxed about their pasture being invaded by 10 vehicles and double that number of noisy people.
The highlight of the weekend was the drive back home on Sunday. The kloof is packed with baboons, monkeys, kudu, bushbuck and a variety of interesting plants and birds. Any lifer is a good one, but especially when it is arguably South Africa’s most beautiful bird - a male Narina Trogon (Apaloderma narina). Although I have seen several species of Trogon in South America, this was the first time I had seen southern Africa’s only representative.

The Lion's Head - one of the many rock features that catch the imagination down the Baviaanskloof
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